Month: July 2015

Vegetarian Tamales

tamales

Tamales (pl.): masa-wrapped, cheesy-vegetable goodness cooked in a corn husk. The actual nomenclature is a hotly debated issue, but I will chalk it up to import error and just give y’all both terms! Spanish singular: tamal; English singular: tamale.

Tamales really are such a treat. They are often considered to be extremely difficult to make, but honestly, this recipe did not take us more than two hours. Many tamales have meat fillings, which require extensive cooking of their own, and that is what makes them so difficult. However, these vegetarian versions were easy enough that we even decided to make two varieties, which made eating them really fun!

tamales

 

As a history buff, I can’t neglect the tamal’s incredible origins. This is such a cool food in that you can truly see its origins (even in the modern dish). Aztec and Mayan populations are known to have eaten tamales. You can imagine corn being picked and milled for flour, with the husks being saved for later use. Clearly, this dish is about utilizing every bit of a plant, and this was a great technique for doing so.

In ancient Mesoamerican cooking, a common technique for steaming involved digging a pit in the ground, lighting a fire, and covering the food with brush and leaves to let it slowly cook. Many people still use this technique today all across the globe, and there are tons of names for it: the New Zealand hangi, Samoan umu, Mayan pib, and the Peruvian huatia. Although today most of us will use a steamer or double boiler to cook tamales after they are wrapped, the ancient technique of using the corn husk remains.

tamales

 

As a side note: if you are interested in global food connections, look up zongzi. These are essentially an ancient East Asian version of tamales, which use rice products instead of corn products!

 

Vegetarian Tamales

makes roughly 17-25 tamales, depending on the size of corn husk 

for the masa dough
2 sticks salted butter
4 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground pequin chiles (alternatively: chile powder)
4 cups vegetable broth (pre-make if using bouillon cubes)

tamales

for the fillings
1 zucchini
3 green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 bunch cilantro
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon pequin chile
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 poblano pepper
6 ounces queso fresco
kosher salt and pepper to taste

for assembly/cooking
corn husks
string
steamer/large colander

tamales

 

First, place 20-30 corn husks in a large bowl filled with water. Weigh them down and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.

tamales

 

Next, prepare the masa dough. Take the butter out to soften, and combine the masa farina, baking powder, salt, cumin, and chili powder in a large bowl. If you are using dried pequin chilis, you can use a coffee or spice grinder turn them into a powder. Personally, I prefer them because that have a more complex flavor and add a little bit more heat to the dough!

tamales

 

When the butter is soft enough, mix it in with the dry ingredients to create a crumble. (You’ll probably need to use your hands!) Finally, slowly add in the vegetable broth until everything is combined.

tamales

 

Next, prepare your fillings! Wash and chop the zucchini and green onions. Mince the garlic. Combine these in a pan with the olive oil and sauté for 3 minutes.

tamales

 

After the zucchini has cooked a bit, add in the vegetable broth.

While the zucchini mixture is cooking, wash and chop a bunch of cilantro. I find it easiest to simply chop off the stems en masse and mince from there. Wash and chop the tomatoes, and squeeze the juice out of your 1/2 lime! Add the cilantro, tomatoes, and lime juice into the pan. Stir everything together, adding in the cumin and chili powder.

tamales

 

After much of the liquid has cooked off (this might take a bit of patience), stir in the cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

tamales

 

For the second, milder filling: simply chop the poblano pepper and queso fresco. Stir them together with salt and pepper to taste. I found this filling a great contrast to the heavier zucchini filling, and it was really nice to be able to have one of each with my meal.

tamales

 

Now you are ready to assemble your tamales! For each one, you want to take a corn husk and spread some masa dough onto it. We found that it was easier to spread with fingers than a spoon.

tamales

 

Be generous with the masa, as it will bake around the filling and keep it from spilling out.

Top the masa with a tablespoon or two of your desired filling.

tamales

 

Next, carefully use the corn husk to wrap the filling in the masa dough. I will say that we did not start off using this technique (we just closed the corn husks like burritos). Making sure that the masa dough is actually encasing the filling will make your final product prettier, and yummier (in my opinion!). Cover the tamal with the husk and wrap it in string to keep it closed.

tamales

 

At this point you can place the tamal in a colander or your steamer.

Continue this process with each tamale, until you run out of filling or masa!

 

1: Spread masa dough onto corn husk with hands.

tamales

2: Add filling on top of masa dough.

tamales

3: Wrap dough around filling.

tamales

4: Fold in corn husk, however you prefer and tie with string.

tamales

tamales

 

tamales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Place all of your wrapped tamales into a colander or steamer.

tamales

 

 

If you have a steamer, steam them for 90 minutes. If you don’t, you can use this neat trick from Tasty Kitchen: put two quarts of water in a large pasta pot, over medium-high heat. Put the colander with the tamales in over the top (we got lucky and ours sealed perfectly!). If there is not a great seal, you can use tin foil to fix this. The tamales should not be touching the water. Cover the pot and steam for 90 minutes, checking every now and then to ensure your water hasn’t all boiled off.

tamales

After 90 minutes, cut them open and enjoy!

tamales

 

I later made a chile sauce to go on top, but they are delicious even without it!

tamales

 

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Piaju with Dill Raita

piaju

Ramadan is coming to an end soon, but I thought I’d go ahead and post this awesome snack! I know I’m about a month too late, but hey, you can have delicious snacks like this after Ramadan too! From what I’ve read, piaju is a pretty standard snack during this month of fasting. They are excellent because they’re small, but filling. Also, they’re fried and delicious!

I used a basic recipe and then changed it up to make it what I want, so this is by no means a standardized version. Also, when I decided to include a “raita,” I totally made up the recipe, so I can’t promise that it stays true to traditional Indian (or Bangladeshi) cooking. The raita is not vegan, but the piaju are still delicious without it!

piaju

Piaju (also known as dahl pakora) are little fried lentil-onion balls. They function as a snack, but obviously during a time of fasting such as Ramadan they essentially become a meal. The lentils really do fill you up. I will typically have a few piaju and then a small salad as a meal.

This recipe is supposed to make about 20 balls, but the American in me just couldn’t resist supersizing them, so I only got about ten out of it. This was a perfect meal for two people, but they are sharing portions and easy to eat on the go, so you really could serve this up as a party food. It all depends on your circumstances, but the flexibility is great.

piaju

Note: you’ll want a food processor for this recipe.

piaju

Ingredients

for the piaju
3/4 cup dried, red lentils
1/4 teaspoon fresh, grated ginger
3/4 large, yellow onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 serrano pepper
1/2 jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon asafoetida

piaju

for the “raita”
1/4 cup plain, Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon minced, fresh dill
1 small clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon poppy seeds

lemon slices for serving

piaju

 

First, wash the lentils and soak them in a bowl of hot water for thirty minutes.

While the lentils are soaking, peel and grate the ginger (you’ll want an inch or two of fresh ginger to get 1/4 teaspoon). Put the ginger into your food processor.

Next, chop the onion. I’d recommend chopping it pretty finely, let’s call it diced. You don’t want it to be too thick because the frying will not cook this mixture all the way and raw onion can be strong in large bites. Wash and de-stem the cilantro. You’ll want to chop it a little bit, but it doesn’t need much. Clean and mince the peppers. [I always cover my hands in olive oil when I am doing this, it protects your skin from pepper burns.] Combine the onion, cilantro, peppers, and spices into a large bowl.

piaju

After the lentils are done soaking, rinse them and put them in the food processor with the ginger. Puree these together, until you have a slightly coarse/thick paste.

piaju

 

I had to work slowly, stopping every now and then to push the paste back to the bottom of the food processor.

piaju

Once that is done, scoop the paste into the large bowl and mix with the cilantro and onions. Now you have your “dough”!

Form the dough into little balls (you can make them whatever size you want). Place them in the freezer for about half an hour.

piaju

 

While the piaju are chilling, make the raita. Place the yogurt in a small bowl. Rinse, de-stem, and mince the dill. Mince the garlic. Add the dill, garlic, and spices into the yogurt and mix thoroughly. If you like your raita to be less thick, you can also add in a little bit of lemon juice.

piaju

 

After the raita is made, you can begin prepping your oil for frying the piaju. I used a very tiny pot for this, because I hate frying things. I hate the way it makes the apartment smell, and I hate the mess it creates. Using this small pot helped a lot. We used only 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil, and had very little odor or splatter. You want the oil to be fairly hot (throw a crumb in and if it begins frying vigorously, you’re good).

piaju

With the hot oil, you’ll want a slotted spoon for placing the piaju in the pot and getting them out. Also have ready a plate with paper towels for draining. We kept our pakora in the freezer and just took them out one at a time for frying and this worked very well.

piaju

When you fry them, a few bits will come off naturally, but don’t worry too much about this. Just keep the oil hot. When you first place the piaju in the pot, you want to move it so it does not get stuck to the bottom, but then just leave it alone! This is difficult, but give it a minute to brown and finish frying, then take it out of the oil and place it on the plate to drain. Repeat this process with each ball, until they are all fried. If you make more, smaller balls, you can fry more than one at a time.

piaju

 

Serve fresh with raita and enjoy!

piaju

 

 

Minestra con pasta e fagioli

minestra

 

I am exploring a new cookbook, Share: the cookbook that celebrates our common humanity. It was published by Women for Women International, an organization that helps women in war torn countries. Aside from learning about their stories, I’ve found some neat recipes that I never would have tried before.

This book is really fun to flip through because the recipes come not only from the women being helped, but also the women doing the helping. This provides for an interesting look at food around the world– who’s using enriched ingredients, which traditions favor simpler dishes, etc. I hope to make many of these recipes, especially those that are a bit more unique. However, I started off with a hearty stew that pretty much any mediterranean foodie knows: pasta e fagioli.

minestra

Pasta e fagioli is a very traditional, Italian stew (pasta and beans), and I want to talk a little bit about the terminology here. I have labelled this post in particular as minestra. Any students of Italian will naturally question this, because the word that most commonly refers to “soup” is zuppa. The history of these terms is fascinating, and really important in terms of how we should view dishes like these.

In Italian, zuppa refers to a soup with broth and chunks of bread, no pasta. Apparently, the term actually comes from a Gothic word meaning “soaked bread.” On the contrary, my new favorite, minestra, is a soup that does usually involve pasta. Nowadays, this soup is typically considered a first course (not fancy enough to be an entree). However, minestra was originally the main (and only) course given to slaves in ancient times, and the term comes from the Latin ministrāre, ‘to supply.’ (Thanks to this Italian Life for the crash course!)

minestra

Obviously, I geeked out a bit at that! On a more serious note- I don’t believe we need to look at this simple minestra as just a first course. This soup was originally meant to sustain men and women throughout an entire day. It might be vegetarian, but it’s jam-packed with protein and carbs. I “beef” it up a bit by adding in a fabulous herb mixture, but this soup can truly be anything you want it to be. The base is a vegetable broth with pasta and beans. You decide the rest.

Because it’s summer, and I am on a farmer’s market roll, I decided to throw in some seasonal veggies as well. Thankfully, this soup also doesn’t take long (about forty to fifty minutes in all).

minestra

 

Minestra: pasta e fagioli
serves about 4, as a main course

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3/4 large onion
5 small carrots (with stems)
2 ribs celery
14oz can cannellini beans
14oz can diced tomatoes (if you can find San Marzano, bless the town you live in for carrying them and please make use of them!!)
4-5 cups vegetable stock (I use Knorr bouillon cubes, because it’s cheaper)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 medium zucchini
2 bay leaves
1 cup macaroni

optional for topping
parmesan cheese (leave off for vegan option)
dill, Italian parsley, and carrot-top herb mix
salt and pepper

minestra

The most tedious thing about this recipe is all of the chopping you are going to have to do! (It’s totally worth it though, so don’t let that scare you!)

First, chop the garlic and onion. [Pro-tip: Bring a miniature cutting station to your living room couch and a bunch of tiny bowls. I watched some Mad Men while making this, so I was chopping everything and separating it out before I even approached the stove!]

minestra

Next, chop off the stems of the carrots (but save those leafy greens for later). Peel the carrots and quarter them. Honestly, you can probably get away with just slicing the carrots, but I knew I wanted a softer stew, so I went ahead and cut them into smaller bites. I even added in a big carrot because it seemed like a good amount of orange…I wouldn’t recommend it, because it ended up leaving me with little broth and LOTS of stuff in my soup! In the end, it will be delicious anyway.

minestra

Trim and chop the celery, adding it into the bowl with the carrots.

minestra

 

In a large pot, heat up the olive oil and add in the garlic and onions.

minestra

After about a minute, add in the carrots and celery. Make sure you stir everything a bit so that the onions do not overcook at the bottom of the pot.

minestra

Let this cook for about five minutes. During this time you need to rinse and drain the cannellini beans, and prepare your five cups of broth. Drop two or three cubes of Knorr bouillon into 5 cups of boiling water and stir until the cubes have dissolved. If you are using pre-made broth, you’ve saved yourself some time (and an extra pot)!

When the carrots are tender but still have their color, add the beans, diced tomatoes, and broth into the pot. This mixture needs to simmer for about twenty minutes.

During this time you can: watch more Mad Men, finely slice a zucchini (if you want to add that), and chop up your herb mixture.

minestra

For my herb mixture, I used 1/4 cup dill, 1/2 cup Italian parsley, and the stems from my carrots! I washed them all and bunched them all together and chopped them. This was hastily done because I was hungry for soup, so you could probably mince them carefully and separately and it would be fancy and beautiful, but that’s not really what minestra is about, so I say just go for it and slow down just to enjoy the flavors at the end!

minestra

After the twenty minutes is up, add in the peas, zucchini, bay leaves, and pasta. Stir everything together really well, and leave it to simmer for another ten minutes.

Next, serve each bowl with a heaping pile of fresh herbs and Parmesan. Add some salt and pepper to the top for taste.

minestra

 

Enjoy!

 

minestra

Vegetarian Dirty Grits

Dirty grits with hot sauce

Honestly, this first came about as a warm, filling, sick person, comfort food.  However, as the sickness subsided, we noticed the depth of flavor and the pure deliciousness that we had stumbled upon. There are so many different ways to make grits and with this hodgepodge creation, all of the ingredients just clicked.

Another thing to note is that there is a level of flexibility granted to the dish as well; if you want to make it carnivore friendly, you can easily add real sausage or use chicken broth during the cooking process. Aside from having a multitude of options for toppings, this recipe’s leftovers can easily be used to fry up some amazing grit cakes!

DSC_0103

Ingredients
(makes about 3 entree or 9 appetizer servings)
1 cup grits
3 cups water
1 Knorr veggie broth bouillon cube
1 slice Swiss cheese
2 slices Monterey jack cheese
1 slice cheddar cheese
1 slice Colby jack cheese
1-2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
cracked black pepper
kosher salt

optional items
Morningstar breakfast sausage patties (cooked)
hot sauce

 

dirty grits ingredients

To start, add your water and the bouillon cube to a pot over high heat until it begins to boil. Feel free to help the bouillon cube dissolve by crushing it with your spoon and stirring the pot.

veggie broth

While this is heating up, start preparing your cheeses by tearing or chopping them into smaller pieces. This will make it easier for them to melt and to be evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

DSC_0070      DSC_0078

Once the broth begins to boil, add in your grits and immediately turn down the heat to low so that it simmers. Be sure to keep stirring continuously; if this mixture boils or is not being stirred it will sputter and hot grits will go flying everywhere.

grits closeup

After this has cooked for about five minutes, add in your butter and stir for another two. At this point the mixture should become fairly thick. Add in your cheeses and mix thoroughly.

cheeses added to grits

Once the cheese has been completely melted, remove the pot from heat and let it cool. While this is happening add in salt and black pepper as they are a necessity in almost everything delicious.

season the grits

Finally, you should chop your sausage to adorn  your portion of the grits.
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Add in any additional toppings you would like and enjoy!

cheesy grits

 

 

 

 

Olive Oil, Lemon Bars

lemon bars

Something I love about living in California is the number of fruit trees. You will find oranges, lemons, limes, and figs casually hanging above many local yards. Recently, one of William’s coworkers brought us a few, fresh lemons. The timing was convenient, seeing as I had been craving lemon bars for awhile.

lemon bars

It’s interesting how the mind works. I follow the New York Times on Facebook and they had just posted a link to a lemon bar recipe. I will not lie, that recipe influenced not only my cravings but also this recipe! We pretty much followed the NYT to a tee, so if you’d like to see their video, it is linked here. I will admit that this is one of the only times when I do not approve the use of added salt. For some reason I can’t handle salt on lemony things that should be sweet, sugary, and tart! I want that tartness and that sweetness! We took the extra salt out, but added a savory note with a garnish of fresh rosemary. You might try adding rosemary-infused olive oil as well, if you’d like to balance out the sweetness, but I am not convinced that salt will do that here.

lemon bars

The crust is a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth, shortbread dough (very similar to the pâte brisée that I use with the tomato tart). We followed her recipe anyway, and it worked fine!

I hope you all enjoy this as much as we did! (It can be stored on a platter for several days in the refrigerator, though the yolky flavor will come out more with each passing day.)

lemonbarserves

Ingredients

for the crust
10 tablespoons cold, salted butter
1 1/4 cups 00″ flour (you can use AP flour here as well)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

for the curd
5 lemons (for 1 tablespoon zest and 3/4 cup lemon juice)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup olive oil or rosemary-infused olive oil
confectioner’s sugar
fresh rosemary
parchment paper

lemon bars

First, make the dough for the crust. I recommend chopping the butter into cubes and placing it in the freezer, especially if you are planning on using a food processor to mix the dough. The benefit to using the machine is that it allows you to thoroughly mix the butter in while it is still cold, which bakes into the buttery, flaky layers that you ideally want in a shortbread crust. If you do not have one, don’t fret! You can still make this by hand, but I would let the butter soften up a bit before you begin, as it will make the mixing much less time consuming!

Combine the butter, flour, sugars, lemon zest, and salt all into the food processor!

lemon bars

Pulse it until a crumbly dough forms. Depending on the type of butter you use, I’ve found that the dough can come out somewhat dry. It should not feel like a powder, it should be a bit damp and should easily come together when compacted. If this is not the case, you can add in ice-cold water, one teaspoon at a time! Keep checking the consistency after each teaspoon to get the right dough: not wet (just damp), but not a dry flour, and easy to press together into one mass!

Next, prepare the pan for baking. Cut out a rectangle of parchment paper to hang inside of a 9″ x 9″ pan. This is SO important because it will make the process of removing the bars 1,000x easier!! Preheat the oven to 325°F. Press the dough into the prepared pan.

lemon bars

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the edges are a golden brown color!

lemon bars

While the crust is baking, you can prepare the olive oil, lemon curd! Wash the lemons and grate them for 1 tablespoon of zest. Cut them in half and juice them for 3/4 cup lemon juice! You might need to strain out the seeds.

Measure out the rest of the ingredients, so that you are prepared to combine them quickly. Making the curd is a temperamental process, but certainly doable!

lemon bars

Whisk the lemon juice (not zest), eggs, sugar, and cornstarch in a pot over medium heat. The cornstarch will not activate until the liquid boils, so you need to make sure you are patient here and get it to a boiling point and it begins to thicken. After you notice the bubbles from boiling, immediately take the mixture off of heat. Do not leave it on too long here. Melissa Clark at the NYT explains that curdling can happen to the eggs if you leave it boiling for too long, and that will not be salvageable. Strain this thick mixture into a large bowl to get out any missed seeds or weird dark parts from the eggs (which I hate).

lemon bars

Into the large bowl, add the butter and whisk until it is melted. Add in the lemon zest and the olive oil and whisk it all together!

lemon bars

Pour the lemon curd over the crust, and jiggle it around until it is even.

lemon bars

Bake again for another 10 minutes (just until the top is set). Put the bars into the refrigerator until they are completely cooled. This can take a few hours.

Once they are cooled, pull them out of the pan using the parchment paper as handles.

lemon bars

Cut them into small squares (we did a 5 x 4 to make twenty servings).

lemon bars

Sift powdered sugar onto the top and garnish with rosemary for a savory twist!

lemon bars

Enjoy!

lemon bars

lemon bars

lemon bars